You should not experience joint pain when you perform activities of daily living (known as ADL’s). How does your body feel during a typical day? Do you feel pain when you move your hips, shoulders or knees through their full range of motion? Take the shoulder joint as an example. When you perform shoulder flexion, extension, rotation, or for that matter internal or external rotation, are those movements pain free? Do you have joint pain when working out? If pain is present, there may be an issue with the mobility of that joint.
What is Mobility?
In order to better understand mobility you first have to grasp what flexibility is. Flexibility is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to stretch when needed. Conversely, mobility is the ability of a joint to actively move through its expected range of motion. Both flexibility and mobility change over the course of time. Think of both as nourishment for your body; flexibility keeps the muscles happy and healthy while good mobility leads to happy and healthy joints, like your hips and spine. When moving and doing any type of activity, good flexibility and mobility are associated with pain free movement in the muscles and joints respectively.
Never Enough Time for Mobility
When you go for a run or have a great strength training session, you feel the benefits of each immediately. This may not be the case, at times, for mobility. You need to put the time in each day to work on improving mobility now so it continues to pay back dividends as you age. Take 5-10 minutes before each workout and work on the areas that you feel like your lacking mobility.
Begin with areas on your body where you experience the most pain. This along with limited joint range of motion are key ingredients that will eventually lead to dysfunction and it needs your attention, now!
Check for Mobility Issues with Simple Testing
A previous Jefit blog post looked at the pressure placed on the back when sitting, standing and walking. Read that post to better understand how heavy loads placed on the body can effect the spine. Keep in mind you can kill two birds with one stone here, start using mobility drills to act first as a warm-up while also working on mobility.
Apley’s Scratch Test
- To test your mobility of your right shoulder, stand up and raise your left arm straight above your head (see picture below).
- Flex your left elbow placing your left palm on the upper back and neck area, then slide it down between your shoulder blades.
- Take your right hand and reach behind your body so the top part of your hand rests on the middle of your back.
- Reach down with your left hand while reaching up with your right. The goal is to try to touch the fingers of both hands together.
- Have someone measure the distance between your fingertips. If your fingers are touching or overlapping, record that as good.
- Now switch arms and test your opposite shoulder.
If you’re like me and have a few inches of separation between your fingers (see picture above), you need to work on improving shoulder mobility. Begin by using a foam roller regularly to rollout the upper back and shoulder areas. Hanging from a pull-up bar with both hands, progress to single-arm hangs for 15-30 seconds and repeat for a few sets. Next, stretch the shoulder capsule daily performing a posterior capsule stretch followed by a tricep stretch. You can use a yoga strap to help stretch and close the gap between your fingers. This is a good first step before adding in occasional vibration work, massage and myofascial release.
Kneeling Thoracic Mobility
The mid-back or thoracic spine (T-spine) is an area that is restricted in most people especially those who do a great deal of sitting or driving. The key here is to first release any tight fascia around the mid back area. The best bet is to perform foam rolling or “rolling out” on taped tennis balls or a lacrosse ball. After loosening the area, try the following mobility drill. If you have difficulty or feel “resistance” rotating your body while moving your elbow up towards the ceiling, you need to work on T-spine mobility.
- Start in a quadruped position (on all fours).
- Touch your left hand to the left side of your head.
- Exhale. As you breath in rotate your body and raise that left elbow up towards the ceiling, keeping the hand in contact with the head throughout.
- As you’re doing this, push the right into the floor. Think about your mid-back during this dynamic movement.
- Slowly return to the starting position, following your breath. Move to the speed of your inhale/exhale. Repeat for repetitions.
Simple Hip Mobility Test
The area that many people have trouble with is hip mobility. Mobility issues or dysfunction in this area typically leads to other major issues like back-related problems. A good first step is to add in hip mobility drills as part of your dynamic warm-up prior to every strength or cardio workout. Then foam roll 5-10 minutes hitting the upper thigh before lying side ways to roll the gluteus medius. Finally, position yourself on the foam roller to target the inner thigh and roll out that area before lying supine rolling out your gluteus maximus. Then try this quick test to assess hip mobility.
- Sit tall in a chair with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
- Without using your hands, see if you can lift and cross your right leg over your left? Then try the same on the opposite side (you should be able to).
- After attempting that, position the right ankle above your left knee that is bent (like in the picture below).
- Take a few deep breaths in/out and relax.
- Now take a look at the angle of the right leg that is crossed.
- If the leg feels comfortable and drops below a 45-degree angle or is parallel to the floor, you’re in good shape.
- Most people, however, will have a 45-degree angle or greater and feel tightness in the hip complex. Is so, you guessed it…work on hip mobility.
These are just three of the many tests you can do on yourself to assess where you’re at mobility wise. Mobility work must become a component of your weekly exercise routine. There may be days where your body just needs to skip a workout and rollout and work on mobility drills. Your body and performance will love you for it. Stay strong and mobile with Jefit.